Triple Crown: Epicenter scores in 50-point Risen Star

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Epicenter won the Gun Runner Stakes. Photo Hodges Photography / Amanda Hodges Weir.

Winchell Thoroughbreds Epicenter just ran his race – again.        

An easy winner of the Gun Runner Stakes earlier in the meet, Epicenter set fast fractions and was beaten a nose in last month’s Lecomte Stakes (G3) by the longshot Call Me Midnight. With a front-running style, Epicenter was by himself at the wire on Saturday in the $400,000 Risen Star Stakes (G2) presented by LaMarque Ford at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots.      

Ridden to victory by Joel Rosario, Epicenter controlled the pace up front and cruised under the wire 2-3/4-lengths ahead of 2.20–to-1 favorite Smile Happy. Zandon finished a half-length back in third in the 10-horse field.     

“A little different than his last race in that every fraction was perfect,” owner Ron Winchell said. “He looked nice and comfortable. We were just hoping he would finish the race (off) and he did, he looked great.”

Breaking alertly from the five-hole, the son of Not This Time needed little urging under Rosario to open up a length on Pioneer of Medina in fractions of 23.79 and 47.97 for the half-mile. After a comfortable six furlongs in 1:12.25, Epicenter was able to skirt away in the long Fair Grounds stretch with a final time of 1:49.03 for the 1 ⅛ miles on a fast track.

“He did run a really big race today,” Rosario said. “That was really nice. He looked like he was enjoying what he was doing and put in a really nice race today. We’ll see going forward how far he can go.”

Smile Happy’s jockey Corey Lanerie felt his colt was poised for a big run down the lane.

“About the 3/8ths pole to the 5/16ths I was wanting to get out and start to make my run a little sooner than I was able to,” Lanerie said. “I felt like I was still running the time I got out to the end (finish line), so if I had gotten out when I had wanted to, I would have liked to see the outcome. But he ran fabulous and he has some (Derby) points now.”

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Zandon’s trainer Chad Brown thought his colt would have been closer had he not leapt out the starting gate from the seventh post position.

“He leapt at the start so it was disappointing he was so far back,” Brown said. “He lost all chance to win. I’m proud of the horse’s effort that he was still able to get a minor piece. The (10) points can help us down the road.”

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Winchell Thoroughbreds and Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen have been down this road before after their win in the Risen Star in 2016 with Gun Runner, who went on to capture the Louisiana Derby before a third-place finish for the roses on the first Saturday in May. They also won the race with Pyro in 2008.

Improving his earnings to $410,639 with three wins and a second from five starts, Epicenter ($9) picked up 50 points on the Road to the Kentucky Derby to secure his spot in the starting gate.

The race awarded points on a 50-20-10-5 scale to the top four finishers. The next step on Fair Grounds’ Road to the Kentucky Derby is the March 26 Louisiana Derby (G2). The rest of the field in order of finish included Pioneer of Medina in fourth followed by Tawny Port, Slow Down Andy, Trafalgar, Pappacap, Bodock and Russian Tank.


1Epicenter (KY) / T: Steve Asmussen / O: Westwind Farms64
2Smile Happy (KY) / T: Kenny McPeek / O: Lucky Seven Stable30
3Classic Causeway (KY) / T: Brian Lynch / O: Kentucky West Racing LLC & Clarke Cooper16
4Zandon (KY) / T: Chad Brown / O: Jeff Drown14
5Pappacap (FL) / T: Mark Casse / O: Buttonwood Farm Inc.14
6White Abarrio (KY) / T: Saffie Joseph Jr. / O: C2 Racing Stable LLC and La Milagrosa Stable, LLC12
7Mo Donegal (KY) / T: Todd Pletcher / O: Donegal Racing12
8Slow Down Andy (CA) / T: Doug O’Neill / O: Reddam Racing LLC10
9Rattle N Roll (KY) / T: Kenny McPeek / O: Lucky Seven Stable10
10Make It Big (FL) / T: Saffie Joseph Jr. / O: Red Oak Stable10
11Major General (KY) / T: Todd Pletcher / O: WinStar Farm LLC and CHC Inc10
12Jack Christopher (KY) / T: Chad Brown / O: Jim Bakke, Gerald Isbister, Coolmore Stud & Peter Brant10
13Early Voting (KY) / T: Chad Brown / O: Klaravich Stables Inc.10
14Dash Attack (KY) / T: Kenny McPeek / O: Catalyst Stable, Magdalena Racing, Kevin Pollard & Patty Slevin10
15Courvoisier (KY) / T: Kelly Breen / O: Hill ‘n’ Dale Equine Holdings & James Spry10
16Call Me Midnight (KY) / T: Keith Desormeaux / O: Peter Cantrell10
17Barber Road (KY) / T: John Ortiz / O: WSS Racing LLC8
18Commandperformance (KY) / T: Todd Pletcher / O: Repole Stable & St. Elias Stable6
19Pioneer of Medina (KY) / T: Todd Pletcher / O: Sumaya U. S. Stable5
20Mackinnon (KY) / T: Doug O’Neill / O: Boom Racing, ERJ Racing, LLC, Madaket Stables LLC & Dave Kenney5